University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


Among the complementizers that can link seem, appear, look, sound, and feel to finite subordinate clauses – as if, as though, like, that, and a null form – there is a lexical replacement nearing completion in the Toronto English Archive (Tagliamonte 2003-2006, 2006). Over the course of the 20th century in apparent time, like comes to dominate over its covariants in this context in the TEA (López-Couso and Méndez-Naya 2012a, Brook 2014). There are, however, signs that this is not a self-contained change, among them a noticeable imbalance in the number of tokens according to speaker age (Brook 2014:5). Looking beyond the conventional variable context in much the same way as Aaron (2010), I uncover evidence that ties this overarching age effect to a broader-level change-in-progress on the level of entire syntactic structures. After the verb seem in Ontario English, finite subordination is increasing at the expense of infinitival subordination. More specifically, even taking into account the influx of like within the complementizer system, the structures that permit copy-raising (Rogers 1974, Heycock 1994, Matushansky 2002, Asudeh and Toivonen 2007, Asudeh 2012, etc.) are increasing together opposite infinitival clausal complements. In other words, younger speakers in Ontario are not simply relying on It/she seems like she's feeling better instead of It/she seems as if she's feeling better. They are also saying It/she seems like she's feeling better instead of She seems to be feeling better. Even with an incoming form defined much more in terms of its syntactic properties than its surface appearance, the change acts exactly as expected in terms of social factors, with a straightforward age effect and female lead (Labov 2001:275, 292-293). I consider some of the implications of this: whether causation between the two levels of change can be established, what it means for there to be recognizable orderly heterogeneity (Weinreich et al. 1968) on an abstract syntactic level, and how this pair of changes might affect Canadian English evidential expressions that rely on the verb seem (cf. Rett et al. 2013, Rett and Hyams 2014).